speaKOut is a monthly column focused on diversity and inclusion, meant to bring new voices into the KO News.
Through interviews with students outside of the dominant culture at KO, speaKOut strives to raise awareness for how we can make KO a more supportive community that celebrates our differences.
For my first interview I sat down with Ishaa Sohail. Ishaa is a four year senior, KO News Managing Editor for Multi-Platform Communications, Model UN chair, Shield and Dragon tour guide, and practicing Muslim.
I was interested to hear what Ishaa, who is Pakistani, had to say in light of the current conflict in the Middle East with Iran. Ishaa is proud of her heritage and religion and she stressed the importance of accepting who you are and embracing it.
How do you self identify?
I am a Pakistani Muslim.
Can you think of an instance when you have felt uncomfortable at KO due to your race/religion/background?
Honestly, just the fact that people never bring it up, which honestly can make me feel discriminated against because it feels like they think they shouldn’t talk about or don’t want to talk about it.
I remember when the shooting happened in the mosque last March and none of my friends asked me if I was okay. They all know that I am Muslim and no one checked in on me. I just feel like I would have checked in on them if it had been a church or something, but people seem kind of hesitant to bring up being Muslim to me.
Have you ever had to defend your race/religion/background to another student or try and debunk a false statement made based on your race/religion/background?
Well, one instance I can remember about me being Pakastani specifically, was during my freshman year. I was talking about what math class I was in and this kid made a comment about how I should be in a higher math class because I wasn’t white.
I was just confused about why that mattered because one’s race shouldn’t determine what classes they’re in. Looking back on it, I know that he was making a joke, but that still doesn’t make it okay.
Have you ever seen offensive images or comments online – possibly posted by members of the KO community – that target your ethnicity/race?
Recently with all the news about Iran, there were a lot of people online making jokes about World War 3 and how everyone was going to get drafted. It really annoys me because in reality, people aren’t going to be drafted.
The people who are going to be truly affected are those in Iran and Iraq. It hurts me to see people not taking it seriously and realizing that there were going to be lives lost. There are some jokes that just take it too far.
Has a teacher/student ever assumed that you were an expert on people of your same race/background/religion?
I remember during my freshman year in “Empires and Republics” we studied Islam. The way my class was taught wasn’t what I had learned from my family or the Mosque. It was more of a factual story and stereotypes people assume about Islam. Religion is a very personal topic and I didn’t like the way it was being discussed because it made it seem cut and dry like math class.
I remember when I had to study for the test on Islam and I couldn’t remember something in class, people said: “You’re a Muslim you should know this.” I felt like everyone expected me to know everything which put a lot of pressure on me.
Overall, do you think KO has been successful in creating a diverse community that respects and celebrates its differences?
I think in a sense. This isn’t a problem necessarily unique to KO, but taking time off for holidays has been difficult. I remember my sophomore year for one of our holidays, we didn’t get that time off at KO.
Personally, I decided not to stay home from school that day because I didn’t want to miss anything. That’s pretty difficult because it’s me being forced to choose between my education and my religion.
However, I do remember that last year at Ramadan, [Dean of Students] Will Gilyard and [Director of Diversity and Cultural Inclusion] Joan Edwards sent out an email about accommodations relating to fasting and praying. That was an example of KO being accommodating, and I hope in the future KO keeps helping the small Muslim community we have on campus.
What can KO do to make its campus a more inclusive community?
The great thing about KO is that we have so many resources – from the school and from our peers – that can help us become more educated on topics that we don’t know a lot about. A way to make the topic of race and for me, being Muslim, is just to talk about it more. Talking about stereotypes or individual experiences can make KO a more inclusive community because it’s breaking barriers and assumptions between individuals.
In order to become more inclusive, we must recognize that there are differences between us. We simply just need to know more about them.